12 January 2008

an anatomy of exhaustion

I am positively spent. Exhausted. Part of me wonders why I’m here typing when I could be slipping into unconsciousness on the couch or staring off into space, absentmindedly sipping a glass of wine and fantasizing about a twenty-first century Mr. Darcy.

I don’t speak often of my work here; like many people, the means by which I secure a paycheck is not fulfilling any childhood dreams or lifelong goals. But I am fortunate in that I do like my job and the people I work with. I am challenged, I am stretched, and I am making positive contributions in my current role. Knowing that God has plans for me as a writer, I am content with my current employment.

The past seven to eight months have been challenging. Workloads have increased and department staffing has decreased. A new product offering launched in July was rushed, creating unanticipated challenges and demands across the organization; we are still reeling from the fallout, eyes widening like deer caught in the headlights as the numbers continue to rise. As a result, I’ve been working 50-60 hour weeks fairly consistently for the past six months at least.

Add to that my efforts to maintain my overall health, experiencing a breakup, attempting to maintain friendships, developing my writing, delving into deep explorations of faith, and you have a recipe for one extremely tired blogger.

Today was one of those days where moments of stillness were achieved only by periodic trips to the restroom. My team was busy preparing our department for a magnificent push of mandatory overtime tomorrow in addition to participating in the requisite meetings (five in all), maintaining daily responsibilities, and ensuring our new-hires were supported appropriately.

Bleh. Bland stuff, I know.

Knowing all the busyness of this week and the weeks that preceded it demanded a deliberate act of relaxation on my part, I went to my favorite coffeeshop after work, ordered a tall soy chai, and planted myself near the fireplace. I opened the book I’ve been toting around with me all week, but have not had a chance to open until this afternoon. I curled my hands around the cup, allowing the moist heat of the drink to seep through the cup and translate its warmth to my hands. I savored my drink, closing my eyes and took pleasure in the mild and unassuming balance of vanilla and cinnamon.

When I returned home, I was faced with a new set of realities and my mind began to reel again. It went something like this:

I see a small pile of my things that have been taking up space in the corner of my dining room for the past few weeks newly deposited at the bottom of the stairs leading up to my bedroom. I suddenly feel that perhaps despite my best efforts not to be a slacker, I am shirking my responsibilities as a housemate, but frankly don’t think I could possibly handle their response if the two who live with me agree with my inkling of guilt. When I get to my bedroom, I am confronted with the laundry basket full of folded laundry that has been sitting there, begging to be put away since last week. I see the clothes I bought over a week ago (also neatly folded), tags still attached and still not put away. I see that my bookshelves are in desperate need of dusting and that I have that huge poinsettia gift bag sitting on my floor, stuffed with remnants of wrapping paper and gift receipts. Clearly, I need to relax. Relax, relax, relax!! I think that maybe taking a bath will do the trick, so I walk into the bathroom and look at the tub. It was six days since I last cleaned it, and odd strands of long curly red hair (whose could they be?) are strewn across the surface of the tub. Who cares, it’s my hair anyway, I reason, so I brave it anyway. I run the water and pour in the pomegranate-scented bubble bath. I light a couple candles, turn off the lights, and slip into a tub full of water that is neither too hot nor too tepid and feel a brief moment of physical and mental release. Perfect! Ah, relaxation! I stretch my hands down the length of my tired shins and calves and realize that it’s been far too long since they had any sort of acquaintance with a razor. Why does that clock tick so loudly? I'm really getting lax in my bathroom cleaning. I start to think about all the witty and insightful comments I’ve read on various blog posts today and wonder why I bothered when my own wit was substandard and my insight on par with a houseplant. I start to think about writing my own post about this dilemma of mine and start to wonder if I really should be including the bit about needing to shave my legs. Is that too much information? How could I describe the perfect chai latte? I really need to go back to yoga. Bubble bath makes a funny sound as it disappears into the tubwater. What will Elyse wear for her picture on Sunday? I hate it when people talk on their cell phones in restroom stalls. Does that sign with the cell phone in the center of that bold red circle/slash mean nothing? I really like the color orange. I wonder what Nathan looks like. I really need a pedicure. But I think green is still my favorite.

And it went downhill from there:

yoga mat digital camera purple shirt havarti cheese frizzy hair seven-up camel pose savasana locust simultaneous charley horses olives red skirt hair do skinny pants kombucha orange shirt Julia Roberts green beans pirates fuzzy socks and do I like the color pink birthday party kleenex wine cork Ireland training wheels evolution Hilary Clinton cute Starbucks crossword guy gym dues StoryCorps dripping faucet spaghetti sauce teapot jet lag sushi Scrabble nail clippers yellow monkey hoop skirts monkey monkey underpants amen

What the … ?

[really, it’s okay to laugh]

Realizing now would be a good time to invoke my own advice, I went to my bedroom and turned off the lights. I stretched out on the floor and took several slow and deliberate breaths. With my mind reeling like it was, it took an enormous act of the will to


I stayed that way for some time, concentrating on my breathing. I shoved away every intrusion that demanded I be conscious of the passing time and instead focused my energy on every single slow and intentional breath. Gradually, the mind and the pulse slowed. I felt my belly rise and thought of how the blood circulated through my body with every miracle of a heartbeat. I thought of the electrical signals coming from my brain, the rhythmic squeezing of the heart muscle, the valves in countless blood vessels opening and closing the way God designed them to open and close without our needing to will it. Slowly, my mind and my body intersected again. I allowed myself to move my body into a few remembered yoga postures and enjoyed the feeling of lengthening and stretching, of defying frenzy. I stayed in the darkness and simply breathed. When I finally left my room, I discovered I had been in there a full hour.

And now here I am, telling you all about it, telling you I actually succeeded employing my own advice. I will have to say no to some good things. Didn’t I say that? I really do love how things have taken off with blogging lately. I love visiting new blogs and having new visitors find my own. But with my fifty and sixty hour workweeks, attempting to maintain my health and my sanity, do something to develop my own writing, attempting to stay in communication with everyone, and finding the time to squeeze in some sleep and teeth-brushing, something’s gotta give. I trust that with my friends here, no apologies are necessary if I don’t wave my arm and interject myself into all the conversations and goings-on.

I am here breathing and doing my best to stay on the right side of insanity. If I don’t, there will be an increasing number of houseplant insights and many more instances of monkey monkey underpants.

Good night, dear friends. Know I hold you in my thoughts and in my heart and in my prayers. Much love to you all.

facing the day photo by kirsten.michelle


  1. oh dear girl, i do hear you!!

  2. Here's me as I sit and read your words and see beautiful you in the mirror picture and insert myself into the consciousness of your full day, all of it:

    Deep breath in. Deep breath in. My dear friend Kirsten. My heart squeezes with such love and care and tender concern for her. Oh, how she needs this vacation, how it comes at the breaking point that is so close to the surface.

    I am about preparing a sanctuary for you, my beautiful girl. You will have rest and beauty and color and soft laughter and the freedom for tears and the space to think and breathe and feel, and every single one of the five senses will meet you here. God is after you with the gift waiting for you at the end of this month. And He is with you now.

    I love you. Sweet dreams to you tonight.

  3. Been there done that. When that happens to me, I find a quiet place, put a hot towel over my eyes and listen to the quiet. A small glass of wine helps too. Just breathe.

  4. Dear Suz! I had a feeling many I know could relate to this feeling. Wishing you peace.

    Oh Christianne. I know the time between know & which we will be sitting together laughing is but a breath, but I wish all the while it could be now. Thank you so much for preparing that space for me as I come, for giving me a place to rest and breathe and laugh and cry and think and feel. I look forward to it in every way.

    Hello, Greg! It seems we all get to these places every now & then where we are positively overwhelmed with all the demands we face. I did indulge in that glass of wine tonight, & it was very, very good! :o)

    Peace to you.

  5. Breathing is good.

    And baths. And forgetting about monkeys.

    Rest. Do.

  6. hey kirsten,

    i've been pretty amazed at how many blogs i see you leave your signature on and the long thoughtful responses you always write. i've wondered how you do that and even felt like a little bit of a slacker that i don't always do that. when i hear about the backdrop to all of that, i feel so sorry that you have put those expectations on yourself. please feel free to pop in only when you have lots of breathing space and don't feel pressured to say something witty or thoughtful or anything at all. i know you're there.

    also, knowing the backdrop somehow transforms your presence lately into something even more precious to me. wow.

  7. I wrote this on my blog In October, It was my response to one such day.

    “When the world seems overwhelming and the walls are closing in;

    breathe, breathe deeply.

    When the world is not your oyster and your world is falling apart;

    Pray, pray fervrently.

    When your mind is over run with thoughts and you can not seem to focus;

    Sing, sing loudly.

    When your heart just seems not in it and your heart says “what’s my motivation?”

    Share, share your life with others.

    When you heart can take a break and you can listen to your God;

    listen, listen well.

    May you rest and relax and find your spiritual and mental center and I hope you sleep well.

  8. What can I say to that? A mesmerizing montage of moments in your life. No wonder you feel tired and discombobulated. I got dizzy just reading it.

    After I shook myself, though, I realized what a concerted effort you make in bringing peace to your life. I can learn a lot from that deliberate decision making. And I feel you on the break up. It’s been almost a year, and I’m still reeling from the pain.

    I watched an enlightening program on 20-20 the other night. At least I think it was 20-20. It concerned the science of Happiness. A volitional act towards a happy attitude and predisposition can actually change the chemical soup in our brains. It’s self-reinforcing. So keep up the good (happy) work!

  9. LL - I agree: breathing good, monkeys bad. No more monkeys!!

    Terri - Thank you for say that; it means a lot, really. I think it harkens back to some childhood scars [we all have them, don't we?] that make me feel as though if I don't consistently proclaim my existence, people will forget about it.

    And I just can't resist your blog, Terri. It draws me in like a magnet, & I just can't resist! :o)

    Hi Carl - I wish I could tell you how much I needed those words & what it means to me that you would think to leave them here for me. There's something about the repetition and cadence of those words that begs me to pause, engage in stillness, and just breathe.

    Nathan - What's funny about this montage of events from a single day in my life is that sometimes I feel as though I'm not juggling everything well enough, as though I should be able to. I'm getting much better at saying "no" when I need to, about knowing when I need to shut the door and rest. It takes a lot though, to get the mind to slow down.

    I had a feeling from the poetry posted on your site that you MUST have gone through a breakup that profoundly affected you: I know that soul-sucking feeling, the feeling that your heart couldn't possibly afford to give itself to another person ever, the feeling as though you'll have an all-out breakdown at any moment. Yes, I know that well. From what I've read, I do not even have to ask if yours impacted you deeply.

    That program sounds interesting!! I'm glad to know that science is backing me up in my efforts to maintain sanity & happiness. I think it's something somewhat profound to realize that we are each of us are responsible for securing happiness & peace in our own lives.

    Thanks, Nathan! I always appreciate your deeply felt and thoughtful comments.

  10. Ah yes, the need and running from stillness. I'm right there with you.
    The last few days, as things seem to mount around me I've been reminding myself that I cannot fall behind in my life. Because it is life, not a project. And this, oddly enough, has helped. Yes, am doing my own part to learn to say no so I can say great big and full yeses. And learning that I'm not falling behind, even when I feel that way. I just am. And it is enough.
    May you soon have some much needed rest. Exhaustion is good for one thing; it tells us, screams at us even, to stop. to slow. To breathe.
    your words here were a deep breath for me.
    love to you.

  11. Bella, thank you for stopping by. Your words are a welcome and calming presence here. I LOVE how you say that you are learn to say no so you can have big & full yeses.
    Love to you, also. Thank you for breathing with me.

  12. First off, you're an amazing writer. Second, I realized as you calmed down and found a moment of relaxation that I have desperately been searching for that moment for so long. I love how you shared your peace with your readers. I didn't know that serenity was one of those things that could be transferable.
    Just Breathe - thanks for the advice.

  13. Thanks for stopping by, DreA! It's been awhile since I was in college, but I know how impossible it can seem to find those moments of peace in your day ... & add grad school applications to that ... well, that adds a whole new level of craziness I can't imagine. Bless you as you seek out peace in your own days.

  14. Greets Kirsten!

    I don't know if your job allows you to keep your music going, but I like to keep a few "escapes" available on my iPod:

    * Holst's Planets (skip Mars the bringer of war, not relaxing 8^D)

    * Random Ambient Music. I like to tune in/download from Soma's Drone Zone or DI.fm's Ambient lineup

    * Some acoustic group. Currently Sixpence is in the pod, but I also have some nice stuff a good friend of mine did with his band.

    When the day is getting rough, I easily slip into one of these albums and can focus on work, while sluffing off any stress into the "void" Oddly enough I can be even more productive in this manner and finish off more refreshed for the next challenge.

    Oh, and I have to affirm Nathan's comment on self affirmation. I'll never forget one of our Torrey sessions where Dr. Reynolds had us read Psalm 103 that opens with "Bless the Lord, O my Soul." He had said that even the command itself can lift us up when we are downtrodden and it has worked!

    Some days it takes multiple (x99) times to lift me up, and sometimes it is to the level to make it through the day, but I think it transfers that long burning joy into my current demeanor where it isn't always present.

    Keep pressing on!

  15. Yuck! Get some rest. Take some good breaths. Remember peace and silence and live there for a bit.

    Take care.

  16. Your random tangential thoughts in the bath remind me of my daily thoughts - and the need for quiet around me.

    I thought of you last night as I watched Masterpiece Classic on PBS - they are doing a 6 part series on Jane Austen - starting with Persuasion - lets just say I never thought I would enjoy watching them, but I do. I'm determined to become more cultured :)

  17. monkey monkey underpants.. is my new mantra.. i lub it...

  18. Hi Sean - thanks for visiting again for the music suggestions. I am very much an addict where music is concerned & also rely on it to help calm my mind when it is racing.

    I totally forgot about that session with Dr Reynolds!! Thanks for the reminder. In times such as these, praise is definitely a choice and I am remembering to do that (even when I'm sick & laid up on the couch). ;o)

    Hi Sarah - thanks for your well wishes. I'm definitely undergoing a forced rest now; like Terri said, I think my body has staged a coup. Even though it's crummy, I'm living in this stillness, knowing I need it to know wellness again.

    Hi Ilse!! I think a lot of people have those random thoughts; this particular day it was weird; I almost felt like I was observing it all from the outside, totally disconnected. I think that probably made me more susceptible to this nasty virus. I'll take it as a gift, though, and sit still for a bit since I've been going 100 mph for so long.

    Nathan - glad you enjoyed the monkey monkey underpants bit. That was terribly fun to write even though it spoke to a somewhat fractured state of mind. ;o)

  19. I just noticed that there is another Nathan commenting on this. Two Nathan's is a cause for both alarm and confusion.

    I guess the only way to tell us apart is to click our name, huh? Well now you have double the trouble :)

  20. Uh-oh, that's right!! I forgot that there are two Nathans peeping their heads in here. I will have to remember to take note of which is which. ;o)

  21. an insightful blog.. free

    reading about a fun gal and her adventures... free

    two Nathans.. priceless..

  22. hey i had two daves on my site and one of them was my husband so you can imagine how dicey that got. ("i'm sorry, i think i just called some random guy darling") yikes!!!

  23. Ha ha, Nathan (of n8te.com fame)!! I love your little spin on the Mastercard motto. So appropriate. ;o)

    Oh, that could get crazy, couldn't it, Terri? Glad to know I'm not the only one encountering this sorts of faux pas! ;o)

  24. Kirsten
    Just dropped by to say hello, I am over at Nate's house on the net. Please forgive me I am trying to get around to reading some of your thoughts on your blog. I am trying to cram everything in on the weekend, and I type about two or three (spelled correctly) words a minute. So I am very humbled to be in the presence of such talent. You, and your friends are beautiful people and I feel honored to have stumbled into your world. I will investigate the words of your heart
    in more detail over the weekend. Man this blogging has captivated my attention, I hope I don't get canned from my job playing on the net. My job is sorta laid back. So I will talk to you again soon. Nate is rushing me out the door to go somewhere I meant to say hi to the rest of gang.

  25. tammy - you honor me with your visit!! thanks so much for stopping by. it is such a privilege to intersect with those who are like-minded & like-hearted, who open themselves to these new connections. i look forward to conversing more in the future.
    blessings to you!!

  26. for making my day...I gave you a 'make my day award'...look on my blog...xx

  27. Have you been eaves-dropping into my head again? Oh Kristen, I so get this. I like to break it down into manageable bites…first I clean the sink, breathe, then I eat something, breathe. There is only one thing that really needs to be done and that’s the thing right in front of me. I’m not trying to give advise and sound like I have actually mastered this, but it does help with sanity (I hope that goes without saying…but just in case). Wishing you nights of long, deep sleep and moments of stillness throughout your days .

  28. Yes, Chloe ~ I think a lot of people (especially women) can relate to this.

    My Mom used to have a cartoon pasted to the fridge that read, "I try to take one day at a time, but lately several days have attacked me at once". This was one of those days that despite my best efforts to break it down into manageable chunks, I just began to feel more overwhelmed and increasingly disembodied. A lot has been falling to the wayside, lately.

    Though I prefer my time off not to be sick time, these two days off have been amazingly restful & much needed. The brain had an opportunity to go into hibernation mode ... ;o)

    Much thanks, dear girl!